This mini-project started out as an idea I had after reading a post over at Eustea Reads, where Eustacia, the owner of the blog, talked about her experiences making her own Hojicha, by home roasting a past-its-best Sencha.
Now, I found this very interesting, as I had not only a batch of Sencha that was entering late middle-age, but also a Gyokuro that was now positively geriatric.
I was reminded of a quote from tea legend James Norwood Pratt, that green tea “…doesn’t go bad, it just becomes a kind of ghost of itself…“.
The hope then was to give the comatose Gyokuro some sort of re-awakening, re-animate it, resurrect the ghost.
Hopefully it would return from the darkest depths of my caddy drawer as a tea-like Gandalf the White, rather than as Mary Shelley’s nightmare, a Frankentea.
The technique I ultimately went with was simple enough. I weighed out 4 grams of the tea, and pre-heated a clean, dry, 20 cm. non-stick frying pan to medium high heat. I kept the leaf moving constantly, by gently shaking the pan in a circular motion.
Once I saw steam (or was it smoke?) coming out of the pan, and could smell whatever was happening to the leaf, I quickly pulled the pan off the heat, and gently placed the tea into a small dish at room temperature, to stop it “cooking“. I let the tea cool down and rest for a good quarter of an hour or so before proceeding.
Interestingly enough, this method was more or less exactly the same one that I’ve used in the past when dry roasting seeds (cumin, coriander, etc.) when making my own Indian spice blends.
Before I started the roasting, the dry leaf seemed to be virtually inert. Even in the confines of its caddy my nose was picking up not a trace of its presence.
Initially the consensus was that the tea roasting process produced an aroma similar to that of cigar smoke, but after a short while that changed to being more akin to the kind of smell that comes from certain other leaves used in (cough) “special cigarettes“.
I was a bit surprised to see that the leaves looked as though they had taken on a lighter colour during the roasting process, not at all what I had expected to see.
Water Used: Filtered tap water
Weight of dry leaf: 4 grams
Steeping vessel: 200 ml ceramic kyusu
Water temperature: 90°C
No. & duration: 3 infusions of 30, 40, and 60 seconds
The aroma coming off the first infusion was reassuringly like Hojicha. The body was surprisingly thick, with a sweet, creamy nuttiness.
The liquor contained what appeared to be small pieces of charred leaf – the kyusu’s drop in mesh filter isn’t particularly fine, and I didn’t want to mess about using a secondary tea strainer – but I never picked up the kind of bitter notes you might find in a badly roasted/borderline burnt cheap Oolong.
Comparing the photos I took for this post to the ones in the post where I first looked at this tea it wasn’t easy to come to any kind of conclusions regarding changes to the colour of the liquor. The waters were muddied by the use of different cameras and dissimilar lighting conditions, but my gut feeling was that somewhat paradoxically the soup made from the roasted leaves was now a little lighter in colour.
The second steeping saw things get even creamier, and I was both surprised and pleased to find myself experiencing a noticeable Qi hit.
Even though I called time on the session after the third round, it was one of those occasions where you find yourself wondering if, with a bit of parameter tweaking, an extra infusion could be hiding somewhere in the pot.
One immediate after effect of this session was a baaaad case of the munchies. I had a hard craving for, and I kid ye not, wasabi nuts.
Other than that example of alimentary stimulation, the session also posed a series of interesting questions, all based around the theme of the changes that had taken place during the roasting of the leaves.
Broadly speaking, when compared to when the tea was in its prime, all the general “marine” aspects to its flavour profile had vanished. This was also true for the sweet vegetal notes that were present during my early sessions with the tea. The somewhat muted nuttiness that had been there originally was now dominant.
This got me wondering as to what degree these changes were down to the age of the tea, and how much can we attribute to the roasting process, i.e. whodunnit – time, heat, or a combination of the two?
Maybe I should have had a pre-roasting mini-session with the tea first, to ascertain exactly what and how much had been lost from the tea before it went into the hot pan.
Maybe I’m overthinking this, and should just be happy that a tea with more yesterdays than tomorrows was once again back in circulation.
Then I started to think and fret about all the variables that one has to contend with when encountering a new tea for the first time, such as infusion times, water temperature, all that sort of stuff.
That kind of brought me full circle – what about the degree to which I pan fried the leaves before I even put the kettle on. Next time, should I go with longer or shorter times in a hotter or a slightly cooler pan? I’ll probably run out of the gyokuro long before I exhaust all the roasting possibilities, never mind the steeping options.
So many rabbit holes, mes braves, and so little time…
Some of my sencha turned houjicha was a bit lighter too! I think it goes light and then brown very quickly, at least, that was my case. It’s interesting that none of the marine notes were preserved for gyokuro – which means that even if people are selling houjicha made from premium teas, it might not have that much of a difference from regular teas (assuming that the heat plays a main role in changing the tastes)
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Having thought about it maybe the colour change is down to any remaining traces of water being driven off…that might explain the later darkening as reabsorption…
As for the changes to the taste of the tea…my guess is that farmers and tea merchants alike are just happy to have Hojicha as an option for old / not up to scratch tea, whatever the original grade…
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I’ve never thought about home roasting teas! I might have to give it a go
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